TOKYO — Veteran women’s basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez will be the flag bearers for the U.S. delegation at the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced Wednesday.
It will be the first time that Team USA has had two flag bearers, following a recent policy change from the International Olympic Committee.
The organization revised its rules in March 2020 to permit each nation to have two flag bearers – one female and one male – as a means of promoting gender equity.
The opening ceremony will begin Friday at 8 p.m. local time in Japan, and 7 a.m. on the East Coast. It will be broadcast live on NBC on Friday morning.
Bird, 40, is a four-time Olympic gold medalist who will be participating in her fifth Games in Tokyo, where the U.S. women’s team is heavily favored to win gold again. And Alvarez has the distinction of participating in both the Winter and Summer Games; He won a silver medal in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“I didn’t think this was ever going to be an opportunity for me,” said Alvarez, who is Cuban American and grew up in the Miami area. “This is a super big opportunity for me and my culture, to be able to represent my background and my people.”
Alvarez, who made his major league debut in 2020 and is part of the Miami Marlins system, let slip Saturday during a conference call with reporters that he was being considered as a potential flag bearer.
The flag bearers are selected by a vote of fellow athletes.
Bird, meanwhile, is a five-time Olympian and one of the most recognizable stars on Team USA. A four-time WNBA champion, she made her debut on the U.S. basketball team in 2000.
“I know this isn’t about me,” she said in a statement. “This is about all the players who either came before me and set the tone for what the USA Basketball women’s program is now, and also the players that I’ve been fortunate enough to play with. So, it’s not just about me. It’s representing all of them.”
Swimmer Michael Phelps was the U.S. flag bearer at the previous Summer Olympics, in Rio in 2016. He was preceded by fencer Mariel Zagunis in 2012, distance runner Lopez Lomong in 2008 and women’s basketball player Dawn Staley in 2004. (Staley is now the coach of the U.S. women’s basketball team.)
In its announcement about the flag bearers, Team USA also said it expects more than 230 athletes to participate in the traditional “Parade of Nations” during the opening ceremony – which would be about 37% of its athlete delegation.
Tokyo 2020 organizers have fielded several questions over the past week about whether the number of athletes would be limited due to COVID-19. They have declined to say how many athletes will be allowed to march, while also declining to answer other questions about the ceremony – such as the number of dignitaries and VIPs that will be permitted to attend.
As the host of an upcoming edition of the Summer Games – in 2028 in Los Angeles – the U.S. delegation will be among the last to walk through the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Friday, alongside France, which will host the 2024 Games in Paris.